Canada's tanker safety system: Current situation

Each year, 80 million tonnes of oil are shipped off Canada’s East and West Coasts. On any given day, there are 180 vessels of over 500 tonnes gross tonnage that operate within waters under Canadian jurisdiction (i.e. up to 200 nautical miles from shore).

Canada has a system to prevent, prepare for, and, if necessary, respond to a ship-source spill from tanker vessels designed to transport oil as well as from fuel leakage from ships in general. Spills can also happen when loading or unloading oil at tanker terminals. Canada’s system has been designed to respond to these risks.

Current situation on the West Coast

  • Oil tankers have been moving safely and regularly along Canada’s West Coast since the 1930’s.
  • In 2009-2010, there were about 1,500 tanker movements on the West Coast, among 475,000 vessel movements in the area.
  • Oil is moved mostly via the ports of Vancouver, Prince Rupert and Kitimat. In 2009, about 8.4 million tonnes of oil was shipped out of Vancouver. Much of this oil is transported in barges to and from communities along the B.C. coast. Oil is also carried on board tankers, freighters, container ships, domestic and international ferries, and other types of commercial and private vessels.
  • A federal moratorium off the coast of B.C. applies strictly to oil and natural gas exploration and development, not to tanker storage or movement.
  • The only significant oil spill in the last 20 years on Canada’s West Coast was not tanker related. It occurred in 2006, when the B.C. ferry Queen of the North sank with 240 tonnes of oil on board. Prior to that, in 1988, Vancouver Island was affected by a spill from the Nestucca, an oil barge that lost approximately 1,000 tonnes of oil.
  • It is important to note that the Exxon Valdez, which spilled approximately 40,000 tonnes of oil in 1989, was a single-hull tanker. This type of tanker is no longer allowed to operate in Canadian waters since, as of 2010, large crude oil tankers can no longer operate in our waters without a double hull (a type of hull where the bottom and sides of a vessel have two complete layers of watertight hull surface). The Exxon Valdez had no marine pilot on board, which is required in waters off the Pacific coast under Canadian law. Further, the Exxon Valdez was not being escorted by a tug boat. Laden tankers travelling in Canadian waters require tug boats to escort them to open waters.
  • On Canada’s West Coast, the National Aerial Surveillance Program flew 389 patrol hours and conducted 3,714 vessel overflights in 2011-12. In addition, 43,508 vessels were tracked.

March 2013